August 5, 2010

brining away

Hey, I'm making pickles over here! Real, old-fashioned brined pickles. In other words, rather than using vinegar as a preserving agent, I'm relying on salt, water, and the activity of friendly bacteria (Lactobacilli) to transform cucumbers into tangy, sour pickles.

I've wanted to try brine pickle-making for a while, and at yesterday's greenmarket I saw some really nice kirby cukes and decided it was time to finally try my hand at the technique. This is just Day 2...and only time will tell how this little experiment of mine works out.

For background, I checked out the vegetable ferments chapter and sour pickle recipe in Sandor Ellix Katz's (aka Sandorkraut, the king of ferments) always-informative book, Wild Fermentation (such a terrific resource - sourdough bread, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, beer, wine - it has it all). First I made a brine by dissolving 2 Tbsp of Celtic sea salt in about 16 ounces of filtered water (A "light brine" consists of 1 to 2 Tbsp of salt per 1 quart of water -- since it's darn hot in these parts, I decided to make a saltier brine, hoping it would better preserve the cukes). 

With only a couple of smallish jars on hand (one 16 ounces, the other 20), I decided to make two small batches: one with spears, the other with slices. I ended up using a total of about 16 ounces of brine.

At the bottom of each jar I placed a couple of peeled garlic clovesDill (fresh herb or seeds) is classic for seasoning pickles, but when I started this project at 10 o'clock last night I realized I didn't have any around. So, for the the spears, I added a cinnamon stick, red pepper flakes, bay leaf, and black peppercorns. For the slices I decided to use smoked paprika (about 1/2 tsp), 2 whole dried red chilies, and a pinch of whole cumin seeds and coriander seeds (about 1/2 tsp of each).  I arranged the cukes in the jars and poured in enough brine to completely cover them.

I should mention that Sandorkraut also recommends adding a tannin-containing leaf (such as cherry, grape, or oak) to the pickles in order to keep them crisp. I didn't have any tannic leaves on hand, so that will have to wait for next time.

Unlike vinegar picklimg, brine pickling requires the jars be open to the air in order for the fermentation to proceed (so the Lactobacilli and other beneficial microorganisms can get in). In addition, the vegetables must be completely covered in brine, otherwise they can go moldy. So on top of the cukes in each jar I placed a smaller jar, partially filled with water, as a weight to keep the cukes completely submerged in the brine. The last step was to cover the jars with cheesecloth to keep out any bugs, and that's it.

Now the only thing left to do is wait -- which is the hardest part! I can't wait to taste these pickles. They should be ready in about a week; once they're nicely soured they can be transferred to the fridge for longer storage (refrigeration slows down the fermentation process and keeps them at about the same sourness level).

Have you brined before?


  1. Yum, I'm such a pickle-fiend!
    I've always wanted to try making my own : )

  2. Hi Nancy! I'm really curious to hear the results of your pickling experience. I've been meaning to get (and use) Wild Fermentation for quite some time now. I hope your posts will inspire me to jump into it!

  3. Hi Lady Grey - I'm a pickle fiend, too. I'll definitely post an update once these are done. Next I'd like to make some dilly beans, and maybe some pickled okra...

    Hi Hilla! I think you would love Wild Fermentation. I followed his instructions for rye sourdough starter last fall and made some delicious loaves of bread for a couple of months. But then I went away for work and the starter died. And I haven't had any luck getting a new starter going since then - so sad!

  4. Oh paprika and cumin for the slices. I'd like to try that. We grew cucumbers this year because my husband wanted to pickle. What do we have? Cucumbers and no pickles! Do you do mail-order?

  5. Claudia, Brilliant idea! Next up, I'm cold-shipping pickles! Well, might need some more experimentation before they're ready for that...Hope some of your garden's cukes end up as pickles :)

  6. Nancy, I am so impressed with your experiment !! Sandor Katz came to Nashville a couple of years ago to a Slow Food event to teach his fermentation techniques, and I was so sorry that I missed him. He's the Wild Fermentation Man!

  7. thanks, Nancy! Sandor gives workshops in nyc now and then - I must attend one sometime. Hope you get a chance next time he's in Nashville (I think he lives in Tennessee so he should be back in your neck of the woods in the not so distant future.

  8. Those jars of pickles look so delectable but I do have a question.

    I see all of these pickled recipes all over the bloghosphere but how do you eat them & with what do you aeat them with??

    Because we don't have a pickled veggie culture over here,...!!!

  9. Thanks, Sophie! Traditionally, lactofermented foods like pickles and sauerkraut were eaten with rich or heavier foods, usually meats, since the lactic acid and good bacteria in the pickles assist with digestion (an example of this would be cornichons with charcuterie).

    Nowadays, the two most classically American ways to eat pickled foods are cucumber pickles on/with a hamburger and sauerkraut on top of a hot dog (though often these are vinegar-preserved and/or pasteurized so they are lacking in lactobacilli).