This post was written by Taylor Wyllie, blog contributor and newfound pickle connoisseur.
My curiosity about fermenting foods was piqued after I read all about the health benefits. Essentially, the microbes produced in the process are great for your gut.
Besides, pickles are delicious, make great hostess gifts and couldn’t be that hard to make at home. So I decided to try pickling for myself. You can read about how I made my dill pickles here.
Well, it’s been four weeks and the results are in.
My pickles, which took four weeks and thirty minutes to “cook,” were… salty. Like ridiculously salty. Swallowing ocean water salty. You get the idea. My pickles tasted like salt with a side of pickle.
But, while I chugged an entire bottle of water to rehydrate, I didn’t care. I still swelled with the pride of a winner. My first pickling experience was a success.
Why? My cucumbers were pickles. Crunchy, safely preserved pickles. They hadn’t rotted through. They hadn’t been consumed by mold. And I didn’t feel sick after eating one. (Update: 24 hours later, the pickle still held in my stomach).I was intimated and, frankly, terrified by the process of fermenting. There seemed to be a whole slew of things that could go wrong. (If you use the wrong kind of salt the pickles will spoil. If the cucumbers become unsubmerged the pickles will spoil. If it’s too hot, the pickles will spoil… So many ways to spoil the pickles.) Extra salty, albeit perfectly-edible pickles seemed like a win.
Besides, I may have accidentally cooked up the perfect marathoner’s snack. You’re welcome, runners.
It turns out, pickling really isn’t that difficult. Especially, if you have the right tools.
What Went Well
Like I mentioned above, my pickles were free of scum, free of mold, free of film and not rotten. That’s actually not super common when you ferment foods.
Most fermented focused blogs say that you will likely come across mold, scum or a slimy film on the surface of your brine. You should then gently remove such atrocities, but they aren’t a big deal and your vegetables submerged beneath the surface are still okay.
While it may not actually be a big deal, I, personally, am squeamish about eating something that was centimeters away from mold, so being able to skip this process eased all kinds of anxiety.
I only removed the lid once (around week three) to make sure there was no scum build up (there wasn’t). I did “burp” the lid on occasion — to keep CO2 from building — but my original intention of burping it daily fell to the wayside after week one. The pickles didn’t seem to need it that frequently — once per week was just fine.
Moreover, the lid kept the pickles submerged the entirety of the four weeks. I did not have to weigh my pickles down with a plate or a bag of water or any of the other DIY contraptions. That eased my worry considerably because eating pickles that were not properly submerged can be dangerous (because they’re rotten or wrapped in mold).
I feel like I am gushing about the lid, but seriously it was made for pickling. One down side? It is rather large — so you will have to make at least a one gallon recipe.
I suppose I did two two other things right — I added enough garlic to the brine and kept the bucket in a 70-degree room, which was an optimal and safe temperature.
Okay, so now for what went wrong.
I should’ve bought fresh dill. The recipe I adapted to make my dill pickles called for fresh dill or dill seed. I used neither (I couldn’t find fresh dill in my local grocery) and used dried dill weed instead. The pickles had a distinct lack of dill flavor. I also should’ve used a hot pepper, again for the flavor, or any other of the optional spices.
My guess is that’s why they turned out so salty. Though a quick search on ChowHound, said the saltiness could be because I fermented them too long or used too much salt. Maybe the intention of the National Center for Home Food Preservation recipe was to make really salty pickles?
Either way, pickling the perfect pickles is really a process of trial-and-error. I’m just proud I produced safe-to-eat pickles. I’ll shoot for edible ones next time.