Over the last few years I have taken in an obscene amount of information about food. Cooking food. Nutrition. Cooking for allergies. Recipe testing. Et cetera, et cetera. If I were to point to one specific thing I have learned about that surpasses the rest in incredible-ness it would be learning about pickling.
Not just any pickling mind you. Lacto fermentation. I know that sounds scary, but it is actually a lot more common than you might think. That is the tradition preparation of two popular foods – (real) kosher dills and sauerkraut. There is actually no vinegar involved. Just salt and friendly bacteria.
The resulting food is a delightfully tangy and incredibly nutritious and probiotic rich food.
Before I continue it would be prudent to tell you a bit about this “lacto-fermentation.” Here is a touch of what Cultures for Health has to say about it:
Lacto-fermentation really is more art than science. The science part is simple: lactobacillus (from a prepared culture, fresh whey, or just naturally occurring) plus sugar (naturally present in vegetables and fruits), plus a little salt, minus oxygen (anaerobic process), plus time, equal lactic acid fermentation. source
The lactic acid prohibits growth of harmful bacteria- which means that the food can be kept in the salt-y brine for several months in cold storage (we use the fridge as it is the best we have). For example, these were still good about 9 months later when we finished off the last jar. All without canning!
No canning = far easier AND no heating!
Canning preserves through killing anything that could make the food go bad, this fermentation process creates a probiotic rich “home” for the food to be kept safe in.
Probiotic (which means for life) rich, and usually crispier then home canned pickles aside, these also taste incredible. I had a friend, who is from Boston, tell me they taste like what you get at the real deal Jewish delis.
Every time I eat them I remember all the times I read about super fat and juicy kosher pickles in books, and were confused by the ones I got from the store. It makes sense now!
Note: If you have been around the real food community you probably are familiar with lacto-fermentation, but are used to seeing it with whey. This is a recipe for whey free lacto-fermented pickles, because the whey is not necessary. It basically just speeds up the process by adding probiotics (and adds dairy, which we can’t do).
This uses just salt which keeps the food safe while the natural sugars turn into the lactic acid. I have found these taste MUCH better without whey.
If you are brave enough here is an (old, from my previous site) video of my sister and I making pickles. It will show how we did it. We used spices in the video instead of dill, but the same method applies. I now prefer quart jars as it is a more manageable amount and the pickles fill it better.
- For every quart use the following (size not recommended)
- 6-8 small cucumbers (3-4 inches)
- 1-2 cloves garlic
- 1 tiny pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
- ½ big stalk of dill
- ~2½ cups brine (see notes)
- a grape leaf (optional)
- For every half gallon use the following(recommended size):
- ~10-13 small cucumbers (3-4 inches)
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1-2 large stalks of dill
- ~5 cups or brine (see notes)
- a grape leaf (optional)
- For every gallon size jar use the following (also a good size):
- 20-25 small cucumbers (3-4 inches)
- 8 cloves of garlic
- 2-3 large stalks of dill
- ~8 cups of brine (see notes)
- 2-3 grape leaves (optional)
- For Four half gallon jars (the size of batch I use):
- 40-50 small cucumbers (3-4 inches)
- 16 cloves of garlic
- 4 large pinches of red pepper flakes (optional)
- 4 large stalks of dill
- ~14 cups of brine (I over make on purpose as it is easier)
- 4 grape leaves (optional)
- I usually buy enough to make about 4 half gallons at a time as that is a manageable amount.
- Prepare the glass jars by washing in hot soupy water. If you have a sterilize setting on a washer machine you could use that, but I just wash very well.
- Prepare the cucumbers by washing thoroughly, and inspecting for bad spots. Any pickle that is not in prime condition I do not recommend pickling.
- Slice off the very end of the blossom side as that helps keep the pickles crisp.
- Layer the pickles in a glass jar, stopping before the inward slope of the jar. I do the first row standing up, and than the second layer laying down. Put the dill and garlic in after doing the first layer. Really stuff them in there so that they stay under the brine (or watch the scary bad video I linked to above to see a way to weight them).
- Cover with cold brine.
- Weight the pickles down if need be (see the video) or you can simply place a piece of plastic wrap over the top of the brine to keep any red pepper flakes in the brine.
- Let sit in a dark place, at room temperature, for about a week. (I have done anywhere from 5 days to about 10 days) you can actually taste test to see if they are tart enough (just use a VERY clean hand). If using a metal jar lid you will want to burp the jars (open and let out built up glass) to keep from having exploding jar from built up pressure. I use plastic lids which are not air tight so do not need to worry about it.
- Over the years I have had a few jars that I had to throw out because the food stuck out of the salty brine. Mold formed and out went the pickles. It s very obvious if they did not turn out.
- Once tangy enough keep in the fridge (or a root cellar if you are lucky enough) for several months (the longest I had mine was 9 months).
For every cup of PURIFIED water use ¾ tablespoon (2¼ teaspoon) real, or otherwise non iodized salt. If using a course or kosher salt use about 3 teaspoons.
1 cup of purified water + 2½ teaspoon real salt OR 3 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups of purified water + 1½ tablespoons (4½ teaspoons) real salt OR 2 tablespoons kosher salt
3 cups of purified water + 2 tablespoons and ¾ teaspoon salt OR 3 tablespoons kosher salt
4 cups of purified water + 3 tablespoons real salt OR 4 tablespoons kosher salt
8 cups of purified water + 6 tablespoons real salt OR ½ cup kosher salt
12 cups of purified water + ½ cup + 1 tablespoon real salt OR ¾ cup kosher salt
16 cups of purified water + ¾ cup real salt OR 1 cup kosher salt
Make it ahead of time so it can be cool and ready to go. Heat at least half of the water and dissolve the salt in it. Add the rest in cool water to help cool it off quicker.
Weighting the pickles:
It is important for the pickles to stay under the salty water. If they get oxidized mold can grow ruining the batch. With half gallon jars I simply pack them in enough that nothing floats and then cover it well. I then lay bit of plastic wrap over it and press it down so it comes in contact with the water. Then I cover with a plastic lid. If you need to weigh them down though I usually use a ziplock bag of glass beads (see video).
Make sure any utensil that goes into the brine is very clean, and your pickles will last for a very long time. Store in a cool place (fridge).
Have you ever preserved through lacto-fermentation?
Since I am talking about pickles, I figured I had to share this photo I found the other day of my son impersonating the pickle. Why is he being a pickle? No clue. Note the facial expression and the exercise mat. You can not be a pickle with out them.