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Traditionally Fermented Pickles

A portrait of Susy, the author of Chiots Run.Traditionally fermented food are super healthy.  It's always nice when you can make something using these methods.  Not only is it quick and easy to make, the end product is healthier than it's more time-consuming processed counterpart.  Pickles are a prime example.  I make one kind of vinegar pickles that are canned.  The rest of the pickles I make are fermented.  Basically you put the pickles in a jar with whatever herbs you want to flavor them and cover them with salt water.  A few weeks later you have a probiotic feast!  Adding fermented pickles to your meals will help with digestion and increase the amount of nutrients you can absorb from what you eat.

Traditionally fermented pickles 

When it comes to making pickles there are a few things you want to consider.  First of all, you don't want the cucumbers to be too large.  The smaller the cucumbers the crisper the end product with be.  You want the cucumbers to have distinct warts or bumps and no yellow on them.  The smaller they are the less developed the seeds will be inside as well.  Freshness also counts, if you can process them the same day you pick them that's best.  If you can't process them right away make sure to put them in the refrigerator to keep them cool and process as soon as possible. The cucumber on the left is perfect for pickling, the one of the right is a little overmature (but you can still use it if you'd like).  You can still use it for pickling, but there will be more seeds and the final product most likely won't be as crisp.  

A cucumber perfect for pickling on the left, the one on the right is a little overmature 

Second you want to make sure you scrub the blossom end of the cucumber well.  It is believed that it can harbor bad bacteria increasing the risks that your batch will not ferment properly.  It is also thought that it can make your pickles not as crisp.  Some people cut the blossom end of the pickle off, I simply scrape it with my nail until I can see the clean end of the cucumber.  You can see the different between a cucumber with the blossom end cleaned (left) and one that hasn't been cleaned enough (right). 

Blossom ends of cucumbers, left, cleaned enough, right, needs more cleaning. 

Gently wash cucumbers. I usually just wipe with a damp cloth to remove all dirt.  You don't want to scrub them too much as they are delicate and they have beneficial bacteria that aid in fermentation in their skins.  Place cucumbers and spices in a fermenting crock or a glass jar.  Typically I avoid the use of any kind of plastic when pickling as the acidic brine encourages leeching of BPA's and other chemicals from the plastic into the foods being fermented.  I use 1 Gallon Glass Barrel Jars for fermenting pickles and sauerkraut.  Wide mouth half gallon mason jars work quite well also.  Depending on the size of container you use for fermenting you can use small plates, glass jars, or drinking glasses to weigh down the vegetables and keep them submerged in the brine.  

Wide-mouth jars with a smaller jar used to weigh down the vegetables and keep them submerged 

I also always put my fermenting jars on a plate that has a lip to contain any brine that spills out of the jar.  This seems to happen most of the time when I'm making pickles, sauerkraut or kimchi.  Do not be alarmed if you see white mold or green mold floating on top of the brine when you're pickling or in the brine that spills out of the jars onto the plate.  This mold is common (some cultures even prefer it) and harmless.  You will want to skim this off of the top of the brine daily, but don't worry about getting all of it as it has a tendency to break up and float away.  Since I use wide mouth pint jars to weigh down the vegetable I usually just push down on the jar, when the brine overflows out of the fermenting jar the white mold usually slides down the side of the jar.  Every few days I add some extra brine if needed to keep the level up.  

Fermented pickles with mold 

When fermenting you want to use pickling salt or sea salt.  You do not want to use iodized table salt or any kind of salt that has anticaking agents in it.  Many places will tell you to only use pickling salt, but I prefer to use an unrefined sea salt called Redmond Real Salt with the minerals in it.  I purchase this salt in 25 pound bags directly from their website.  

Fermented pickles ingredients in the jar 

For my recipe, see this post on my blog.  You can certainly change the spices in the recipe above to suit your tastes.  Add some sliced onions and mustard seeds, or perhaps mixed pickling spices instead, some horseradish would be nice as well.  When making more than one batch of pickles, always make sure to label your jar with the type and date started.  I also include the page number that the recipe was on.  If you're interested in learning more about both traditional fermentation and other kinds of pickling I'd highly recommend purchasing The Joy of Pickling: 250 Flavor-Packed Recipes for Vegetables and More from Garden or Market. It's full of all kinds of recipes from fermented vegetables to gravlax and so many other interesting things.  

Do you make or enjoy any traditionally fermented foods?