If you’re a fan of deli-style pickles, then you’re a fan of salt-brine fermented pickles. I am too, I am too! In fact, I’ll never forget the first time I had fat slices of salty fermented pickles at Upstairs Downstairs Deli in Madison, Wisc.—bright green and uber-garlicky, I couldn’t stop eating them. (What are these? Why are they different? Why are they so addictive? I pretty much drove my college roommates nuts with my constant food chatter and questions.) As much as I love the bite of a vinegar pickle, the milder sourness of fermented pickles does make them go down like buttah.
Bonus: They’re incredibly easy to make! Fermented pickles require no vinegar—the tanginess is a by-product of fermentation, which happens with very little effort, right on your counter. Feel free to add any combination of your favorite pickling spices—coriander seeds, mustard seeds, chile flakes, cardamom pods, black peppercorns, allspice, fresh chiles, cloves—or keep them really simple with just dill and garlic. Some recipes suggest adding a few grape leaves, as their tannins help keep pickles crisp. I like the idea if you get around to sealing the jars for later eating, but honestly, we devour them so quickly, it’s never an issue.
I pretty much smell like a pickle lately, cranking out vinegary and fermented batches of pickled corn, beets, green beans, peaches, watermelon rind, radishes, cauliflower, and peppers, with my Kitchen in the Market Provisions class partner chef Scott Pampuch. We’re teaching a Pickling the Market class in just a couple of weeks, on Saturday, August 11. Join us for cocktails and brunch as we wander through the market grabbing what looks good and fresh and then…pickling it! You will leave stuffed with treats both sweet and savory, as well as with more than enough tips to get pickling at home. I hope to see you!
Until then, definitely set a batch of CSA or farmers’ market pickles to fermenting…go!
Fermented Cucumber Pickles
Fills one 1/2 gallon Mason jar
Note: I found a huge batch of garlic scapes at the farmers’ market, which is delicious pickled, so I used chopped scapes in place of sliced garlic. Feel free to add any combination of the seasonings I mentioned above…make them your own!
1 quart water
5 Tbsp. Kosher salt
3 large sprigs fresh dill (or more, to taste)
1 c. chopped garlic scapes or 5 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 Tbsp. black peppercorns
10-15 very fresh Kirby pickling cucumbers, ends trimmed away, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
Stir water and salt together in a large bowl until salt dissolves and water is clear.
Put one large sprig dill, 1/3 of the garlic scapes or slices, and 1/3 of the peppercorns in the bottom of a clean 1/2 gallon Mason jar. Layer in 1/3 of the cucumber slices, taking care to fit them together tightly. Continue with the rest of the seasonings, garlic, and cucumbers, in two more layers, stopping 1 inch below the top of the jar, finishing with the last of the seasonings and garlic
Ladle salt water into the jar, just covering the cucumber slices, leaving 1 inch of space at the top of the jar. Screw the cap onto the jar and set on the counter for about 3 days. Once a day, open the jar for a couple of seconds to allow the gases caused by fermentation to bubble off. You’ll see the bubbles rise to the top, then stop; at that point replace the lid.
The pickles will become more sour (and the brine more cloudy—this is good and fine) the longer you allow them to ferment, so definitely taste them as you go. If at 3 days you’d like them to have more tang, leave them for another day or two. I like them mildly sour, so the 3-day mark is where I stop and move them to the refrigerator. When you’ve achieved your perfect pickle, transfer to the refrigerator to stop the fermentation. They’ll keep nicely for a couple of weeks.