A couple friends have asked me about making pickles, so I’ve decided to do a post. I only prepare pickles once a year when those beautiful pickling cukes come out in mid to late summer. I make enough to last all year!
If you haven’t heard about the health benefits of fermenting your veggies this way, I devoted an entire chapter to the subject in my book, Is the Paleo Diet Right for You? Ancient Science Meets Modern Wisdom, available on Amazon.
At the least, you’ll need some good sharp knives, a cutting board, measuring spoons and cups, glass jars (Mason jars or special anaerobic fermentation jars), and a variety of bowls–especially a very large one to contain your cucumbers. It’s also helpful to have a stiff veggie brush for scrubbing the cukes, as they can be caked with dirt if coming straight from the farmer’s market. I use a kitchen scale for weighing the salt to prepare the perfect brine. The nice thing about pickles is, no food processor needed!Basic Recipe
This recipe makes a couple gallons of pickles, enough to last me an entire year. You can certainly make a smaller batch if you have limited space in your fridge.
- Picking cucumbers, 9-10 pounds
- Fresh dill weed, 1-2 large bunches trimmed
- Jalapeño peppers 6-8 halved (or other peppers of your choice)
- Garlic, 1 head, cloves peeled but left whole
- Peppercorns (couple handfulls)
- *Filtered water, 4 quarts or slightly more
- Sea salt, 80 grams
- Kinetic Culture, 1 teaspoon (or your culture of choice)
* Do NOT use tap water because chlorine and other chemicals will stop the fermentation process dead in its tracks
Prepping Your Veggies
Thoroughly clean your cukes by soaking them and scrubbing them with a stout veggie brush–you don’t want any grit in your pickles. NO NOT trim the ends as I did here–some got mushy. This is the first time I’ve done that, and they’ve never gotten mushy before. I would just discard (or juice) any that have blemishes also, as opposed to doing any trimming. The fresher your cucumbers, the better. I always opt for organic, local cukes.
Prep your dill, peppers, and garlic. I include both dill leaves and seeds, tossing out the stems.
Loading the Jars
I load my jars starting with the dill in the bottom, divided evenly between them. Then I add the garlic cloves and peppercorns, and whatever other spices you might decide to try. I like to distribute the peppers kind’ve intermingled with the cukes–although often they have a mind of their own and won’t stay where I put ’em, so it probably doesn’t matter. Leave some space above the top of your cukes so that the brine will be able to completely cover the veggies, while leaving a bit of airspace.
Culture and Sea Salt Brine
The next step is dissolving your salt and culture in your filtered water. I use Kinetic Culture because I’m going for high vitamin K2 production, in addition to flavor. I’ve calculated the amount of culture I need to be about one teaspoon, for this recipe. Just follow the directions that came with whatever culture you’ve chosen.
Although you don’t have to use salt when you use a culture, I believe it really improves the flavor profile, with the additional benefits of the trace minerals naturally present in Himalayan sea salt. I prefer about 20 grams of salt per quart of water for a pickle brine, which means 80 grams of salt for this recipe.
Dissolve the salt and culture in the water, then pour into the jars. If you end up needing a little bit more liquid, I don’t bother mixing in more culture or salt. I just top off the veggies with filtered water. The brine will be fine as long as you dilute it too much. (With this batch I needed about one cup extra.)
OK, you’re almost done–all that’s left is the partying (the partying of the bacteria, that is)–and party they WILL!
You don’t have to have a fancy fermentation jar to make this work. Large mouth quart-sized Mason jars will be okay. However, if you do use Mason jars, buy the smallest cukes you can find or you’ll only be able to fit in about 4 per jar. And if you use Mason jars, make sure NOT to tighten the lids down–leave them loose so gases can escape or you risk the jars cracking under pressure. Gases build up, which makes the whole mixture expand. Make sure you leave some space between the top of the mix and the top of your jar for this expansion. If you pack your jar too full, you might walk into a squishy mess of brine on your kitchen floor tomorrow morning (um…voice of experience).
In a day or two, you’ll see a whole lotta bubbling going on as those bacteria begin doing their thing. Here’s what it looks like 28 hours later… look at all those bacterial burps!
Let the jar sit at room temperature (68 to 75 degrees F) for 5 to 10 days. My experience is that it typically takes about a week for pickles made with Kinetic Culture.
Beginning on day 5, start tasting for “doneness,” meaning degree of sourness. You’ll have to cut into a pickle to do this, and you’ll actually SEE how far the fermentation has penetrated into the pickle. It will be a slightly different shade of green, and a slightly softer texture. Also note the color change… the pickles go from bright green to more of an olive green.
How sour you want them is completely subjective, but keep in mind they’ll continue to get more sour over time. You can leave them out at room temperature for weeks if you want. Just remember, they will continue to very slowly ferment even in your fridge. Mine have been perfectly fine when refrigerated for up to a year–until the next cucumber season!
When satisfied with the fermentation, snug up the lids (if you’re using Mason jars) and put them in your refrigerator, which will drastically slow down fermentation. I dare you to make them last a year… especially once you start sharing them with your friends and they start begging you for another jar!
Tips and Suggestions
- Never freeze cultured veggies.
- Don’t heat them above 100 degrees F or you’ll kill off those highly valuable microorganisms.
- If you haven’t eaten fermented vegetables before, start slowly to allow your system to adjust. Begin with just a teaspoon or two (or just the brine), and work your way up to ½ cup veggies with each meal.
- Don’t discard the brine—it’s teeming with wonderful bacteria, making it a great digestive tonic for a multitude of issues. You can drink one tablespoon to several tablespoons at a time, several times a day. The brine is safe and beneficial for babies and pets as well.