How to Make Lacto-Fermented Pickles
The cucumbers are in season! What to do with so many cucumbers? Planting that extra hill of cukes seemed like a good idea last May. Here’s an idea: make pickles! Or, better yet, make lacto-fermented pickles!
Cucumbers USED TO be fermented to preserve them. The pickles you buy today are pickled, that is, cooked in vinegar and salt. Much more delicious pickles can be made easily and cheaply at home, yourself. Cucumbers are put in a large crock. Brine is added to keep the bacteria in check. Fresh whey can be added to kick-start the fermentation process. Spices are added to make everything even more delicious. No vinegar in this recipe! The acid is not just poured in, but instead is a by-product of the fermentation, so the result is an evenly balanced bite of lactic and acetic acids, not just the chemicals added by the big manufacturers! Here’s a homemade pickle recipe that’ll make your grandparents proud!
I use an old 3 gallon crock that I’ve had for years. (The white stuff on the sides is some kind of calcification. I’m going to acid wash it one of these days but that’s another post.) You can use a crock or just a big glass jar. Plastic containers aren’t the best choice as some plastics can leech evil things into the mix. Once I’ve gotten the crock super-clean, I add a bunch of dill weed. Dill is a natural antibiotic. It keeps the bad bacteria from taking over your crock. I’ve been told to leave the roots and the dirt on. Lots of good bacteria there! Yeah, OK–I don’t listen…
Next, I added 4 pounds of cukes. Some people say to trim off the stems or the pickles will be bitter. Some people say to trim off the bud ends, because they contain an enzyme that cause the mature cuke to rot as part of the reproductive cycle, so the seeds will have a nice place to grow. I don’t listen…
Add the brine. Mix together 5.5 oz (by weight) of NON-IODIZED salt and one gallon of NON-CHLORINATED water. Sea salt is nice. Pickling salt is good here. Iodized salt prevents goiter and will also kill off the bacteria that we are trying to encourage to make our pickles delicious. The chlorine in your tap water is a deal breaker, too. Use bottled water, spring water, distilled water. Whatever you can get your hot little hands on. Just watch out for chlorine! In a pinch, boil your tap-water for at least 10 minutes and then let it cool, to de-chlorinate it.
Next, spices! A tablespoon of black peppercorns. A teaspoon of red pepper flakes. If you want “Kosher dills”, the recipe is lots of garlic with your dill. I peel a head’s worth of cloves and throw those in. They make the pickles taste good and the garlic cloves are yummy to munch on as well.
Next, the bacteria. You can take your chances with just leaving this open to the air and hoping that the right little critters will find it. I prefer to colonize the crock with someone I know. When I make yogurt, I strain the finished product down 50%. I keep the Greek yogurt in the fridge. The other 50% that comes out is whey. It’s great for making bread, but it’s also a wonderful source of lactobacters to work on the sugars in the cucumbers. For this batch, I poured in a half a coffee cup full.
Finally, weight the mix down to keep the air off the cukes. A plate works nicely. I used a Pyrex pie pan, because it was the right size, it was heavy, and I can watch the bubbles as the sugars get converted to acid. If you don’t have a plate that fits, you can use a gallon ziptop bag, half full of brine. You just need something that will keep the cukes under water. Anything touching the air has the potential to mold.
Store your crock somewhere where you can keep your eye on it and where the room temperature is about 75 degrees. My house is air-conditioned so I put my crock up in my 3rd floor office. It’s OK if your crock is cooler–it will just take a little longer before you get any pickles.
Check this after 3 days. You should have lots of bubbles in and around the pickles. If you see anything gross looking floating on the surface, skim it off. Wipe off the inside walls of the crock with a damp towel occasionally. If anything smells like anything less than delicious pickles, ditch the whole mess. You got “skunked” and you need to start again.
Here they are after three days. A couple little clusters of bubbles. No gross mold or anything. No odd smells. So far – real good! Keep tasting every couple of days. I give the crock a big whiff before I put anything in my mouth. I’m just cautious that way.
Here’s another cucumber recipe that I put up on youtube: