Written by a real ABL-user and blog contributor.
Fermented food are everywhere these days—in 5 star restaurants, fast-food joints and everywhere in between. And I don’t know about you, but I am loving it.
We’ve discussed on this blog before all the health benefits of fermented foods (hint, it helps digestion), but these foods are also just plain tasty.
I’ve always been interested in pickling myself, but dragged my feet as pickled foods, at the very-least pickles, are available at every grocery single grocery store across America (and I don’t think that’s hyperbolic).
But the benefits of DIY pickling cannot be ignored. Once you understand how to ferment foods, there are thousands of recipes you can make. Cranberry relish, Spinach Kraut, Indian spiced cauliflower to name a few. Your fermented vegetables also make great, cheap, go-to gifts for coaches, teachers and work-colleagues. Moreover, pickling and fermenting are great ways to preserve vegetables that you otherwise would’ve thrown away.
But there is a lot of information on pickling out there that can be incredibly confusing. For one—you need to understand the differences between pickling and fermenting. Pickling is preserving food in a brine, while fermenting is preserving your food by benign bacteria (pickling does not require fermenting, but fermenting can require pickling). There are also important food-safety regulations you should be sure to follow, though most experts agree at-home fermenting isn’t as mysterious or dangerous as people tend to think.
Frankly, it’s intimidating. So I went for simplicity. I adapted this recipe from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, which makes one gallon of dill pickles. (Which I pickled through the fermentation process—which produces all that healthy gut bacteria.)=
What struck me most was how simple fermenting is. The process took less than thirty minutes (although they will have to “cook” for approximately four weeks) and was as easy as following a few, clear and simple steps.
Here’s how to make it:
You will need
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 4 tablespoons of dried dill weed (dried dill weed, dill seed and dill weed are all different. They’re somewhat interchangeable, however they require differing amounts to create the desired taste. I went for dried dill weed because it was the easiest to find in the heart of winter.)
- A pinch of red pepper flakes
- ¼ cup of vinegar (any vinegar that has five percent acetic acid content will do—so no wine vinegars. I had apple cider vinegar on hand, so that’s what I used).
- 8 cups of water
- ½ cup canning and pickling salt
- 4 lbs of pickling cucumbers (you do not have to use pickling cucumbers. They’re recommended because of their small size, soft skin and low seed content. But any will do as long as you know what to expect).
- The Planetary Design Airscape bucket insert
- 3.5 or 5 gallon food grade bucket (I picked mine up at Lowe’s for approximately $3)
1. Wash your bucket and lid in hot, soapy water. This eliminates undesirable microbes from being introduced to your fermenting cucumbers, which could make them unsafe to eat.
2. Thoroughly wash your cucumbers. Cut off 1/16th of an inch from the bottom of each cucumber. This step is a must. The blossom ends of cucumbers contain softening enzymes that will make your finished pickles limp. Remove any soft or bruised vegetables—they won’t ferment well. The fresher the cucumbers at the onset, the better the resulting pickles.
3. Add half of the dill weed, red pepper flakes and garlic to the bottom of your bucket.
4. Add all of the cucumbers and remaining spices.
5. In a separate bowl, combine the water and vinegar. Stir in the salt. You don’t have to use pickling salt, but avoid table salt as it will not dissolve into the solution as well and contains additives that can ruin your ferment.
6. Once the salt has dissolved into the water and vinegar solution, pour the brine over the cucumbers and spices. Make sure the cucumbers are evenly submerged.
7. Push the AirScape insert into the bucket until it’s tightly pressed against the cucumbers (i.e. until you know they are all thoroughly submerged in the brine). The Airscape lid acts both as the “weight” and the seal; the former will keep all of the cucumbers properly submerged, preventing unwanted bacteria, yeasts and molds from ruining your ferment, while the latter will keep out oxygen (which helps the fermentation process).
8. Keep your fermenting pickles between 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit for four weeks (if need be keep them at 55-65 degrees Fahrenheit, but know the fermenting process will take one to two weeks longer). Be careful not to let your fermenting cucumbers get too hot—past 80 degrees and you have a much higher chance of spoilage.
9. Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of the fermentation process. To keep the CO2 from building up, burp your pickles by squeezing the handle of your Airscape insert. To be on the safe side, burp the bucket once a day.
10. After four weeks you have the choice of storing your pickles in their original container in the refrigerator (while continually scooping off surface scum and mold) up to four weeks, or canning them for longer storage.
And voila—you’ve mastered the art of pickling. Or at least made the first step in becoming a pickling master. Or at the very, very least impressed yourself by making homemade, delicious pickles.