Last year was my first foray into making my own pickles. I had some great success and I also made some mistakes that I learned from. The good batches of pickles I made were so good that when I shared them with friends at a party I got a message the next day asking if it were possible to get some more, would I consider selling some? But I also messed up some batches and had to throw them away. Here I will provide the steps and variations I use, as well as some cautions so you don't make the same mistakes I made. Even though there are lots of details to think about, making pickles is very easy and doesn't take much time at all if you have the jars and spices on hand. You can use the same recipe and guidance here with carrots as well, just make them the same way substituting carrots for cucumbers, they come out awesome!
Start with the right cucumber varieties
There are special cucumbers for pickling, don't just use regular cucumbers. Use Kirby, or Sumter, or others that are intended for pickling. You could buy them for making an occasional batch, but you should grow them yourself, they are easy to grow. Also plant some dill weed even before the cucumber planting if possible so it will be ready around the time when the cucumbers start rolling in. Also plant some rosemary in your garden and get it established, it will grow into perennial bushes and shrubs in moderate climates and then you can snip sprigs from it which make very interesting and unique pickles unlike anything you will find in the stores. The rosemary pickles I made last year were the ones people really liked the most. Dill weed is not perennial and has to be planted every year. Last year I did not have any dill planted but I did make some dill pickles using sprigs of dill purchased from the local grocery store. This year I have dill growing and ready. Cucumbers grow very fast and once they start rolling in you will be making pickles every other day or so for a while. You can refrigerate them for a few days if needed but don't wait too long, they are better the fresher they are when you make them.
About the jars
Canning jars are easy to come by, get them at a local store or order from amazon. They need to be sterile. You can boil the jars but that is a pain, if you have a good dishwasher run them through twice set on heavy load and high temperature wash. This is especially important if the jars have been used before. One of the mistakes I made last year was re-using the jars after the first batches and I did not get them sterile enough so some went bad and had to be thrown out. I boiled them after that but it was getting towards the end of the season at that point. This year I'm using the dishwasher high temperature wash and they seem to come out sterile, we shall see. I use one quart and two quart jars, I also use some glass fermenting weights or pickle pebbles that I put on top to help keep them below the surface of the water. You can get those also at amazon, they are kind of expensive considering what they are. You can also get by without them if you pack the cucumbers well enough that they aren't trying to float to the top. You can re-use the ring parts of the lids but never re-use the flat parts. You can buy extra lids fairly cheap on amazon.
Make the brine
Use 2 - 3 tablespoons of sea salt per quart of filtered water. I put this in a large sterile bowl and stir it to dissolve the salt. It has to be sea salt, don't use iodized salt. One of the mistakes I made last year was trying to reduce the salt in some batches but that is a bad idea. The salt is very important in creating the right conditions to allow the good bacteria to thrive and to prevent the unwanted kind. When I used too little I ended up having to throw out some bad jars and hang my head in disappointment as my pickle supply dwindled.
The basic recipe
- on a sterile cutting board cut the cucumbers into wedges and put them in the jars.
- add spices
- fill with brine
- optionally top with fermenting weights or pickle pebbles
- seal the jars tightly with new lids
- store the jars at room temperature in some kind of tray or container, as gasses build up sometimes the jars may ooze out some liquid. If that happens what I do is carefully and slowly open the lid to gradually let off pressure then reseal. Best not to store them in direct light
I store them for 7 days at room temperature and that is usually enough. I put them in the fridge at least one night before eating them. They will continue to ferment in the fridge but much slower than at room temperature. You can keep them at room temperature longer or much longer if needed or if you don't have space in the fridge.
Spices - get creative
The fun part of making pickles is using different spices. Try different things, be creative, and give them your own personal touch. Not every experiment will turn out to be great but many will, and it is fun to experiment. Dill is the traditional spice of choice for good reason, but other things like Rosemary make very interesting flavored pickles unlike anything you will find in stores. In fact finding real fermented pickles in stores is not likely, they are typically made with vinegar and may be pasteurized. There are probably regulations that make it difficult for the food industry to provide real fermented craft pickles. The ones you make yourself will be better than any you find in the stores.
The spices I have been playing with are:
- Sprigs of fresh dill, growing my own this year
- Sprigs of fresh rosemary, I have lots of this growing in my yard, also good for aroma therapy, just rub your fingers through it and smell your hands
- Chopped garlic - I chop it but I don't mince it really small, I use kind of a lot because I like garlicky pickles
- Peppercorns - I put a tablespoon or more in the large jars and a tablespoon or less in the small jars
- mustard seed - a teaspoon or tablespoon per jar
- corriander seed - a teaspoon or tablespoon per jar
- cumin seed - this I only add in some jars, I like it but not as much as some of the other combinations
I have made batches with all of the above together but you don't need all of that every time. I always use the garlic, always use dill or rosemary or both, always use peppercorns, often use coriander, occasionally use cumin. I use quite a bit, you can probably get by with less, but try different proportions. I buy the peppercorns, and other seed spices in bulk from amazon, so much less expensive than buying little jars at the grocery store, and having more on hand allows me to add them more generously than I might otherwise.
It may sound like a lot of steps, but it really doesn't take long. As the cucumbers start rolling in fast I make batches every few days and it takes me only about 15 - 20 minutes including the time to pick them and rinse them. Fermented foods are very good for you and very delicious. I can't wait till my first batch of the year is ready to eat, which will be next week.
There are lots of good little books about fermenting if you want to learn more.
Enjoy, and don't forget to share them with your friends!