With all the various fermented vegetables I’ve made, somehow I never got around to making cucumber pickles. But that changed this summer when I tasted a friend’s potluck offering and realized how much I missed them. The vinegared pasteurized version from the store just doesn’t taste the same.
My friend used slicing cucs (the kind you put in salad), cut into chunks. They were delicious but a bit mushy with a thick skin. I knew I’d want to use pickling cucs, which are thin-skinned, solid, and just the right size for pickles. I found some at an organic farm stand I passed on my way to an appointment in Santa Rosa. The farmer insisted I take some heads of dill as well.
I used the making sour pickles recipe from fellow tribe member Sandor Katz, author of Wild Fermentation. With other veggie ferments, you add salt, massage it in, and let the vegetable juices come out and cover the veggies (adding some salt water if necessary). But, with whole pickles, you need to make a brine. With cucumber pickles especially, the salt to water ratio matters. I used 3 tablespoons salt in 2 quarts/liters of water.
I also added a large head of dill flower, a small handful of peppercorns, and some grape leaves. Katz (and other sources) say the grape leaves help make the pickles crunchier. I figured it couldn’t hurt, and I do have a nice grape vine in the back of my property. Next time though I’ll make extra grape leaves and then use them for stuffed grape leaves since all the commercial ones have preservatives. If you want garlic, toss in a few peeled cloves.
Put your dry seasonings in the bottom of the container (use glass or ceramic; plastic works but I can’t recommend it). You don’t have to sterilize it first but do make sure it’s clean. Wash the cucumbers, cut out any bad spots, and remove any remaining blossom ends with your fingernail or a knife. You can keep the stems. Pack tightly into the container.
Now, pour in the salt solution, making sure all the cucumbers are covered. Put a plate or jar or other weight into the container to keep the pickles submerged. I used a plate with a water-filled jar on top. Cover the container with a loose fitting lid or towel to keep it clean.
Put the container on your kitchen counter or some other place that’s not too hot or too cold. Don’t put into your fridge; it won’t ferment.
Check the pickles every day. There will be a lot more mold growth than with sauerkraut and other vegetables. Carefully wipe it away, cleaning the plate/weight as well. You can dip a cup or ladle into the brine to pull off mold from the top. The mold is white and isn’t overtly harmful but it will make your pickles mushy and bad tasting. Don’t worry about traces but try to get most of it.
After 5 days, my pickles were crunchy with a slight tang but were more cucumber than pickle. At two weeks they were just right. You should taste now and then to see how you like them. Some people go a month or more. It’s not only a matter of taste (do you want sour, half sour, dill, etc?) but the salt concentration and temperature will make a big difference in the fermentation rate. When they’re done, clean things up one last time and stick the container in the fridge.
This batch came out pickle perfect. But my second batch, not so much. That time I bought organic pickling cucs from the farmer’s market and they had air spaces in the middle. You just can’t predict this. The pickles took less time to cure and still tasted fine (though not as flavorful since I didn’t have any dill) and the texture wasn’t bad, but I didn’t get that solid pickle crunch when I bit into them. I also had a lot more trouble with mold the second time, even after refrigerating. They’re still edible but I’m not sure what went wrong. Guess I’ll have to practice some more…next cucumber season.