If you are one of the legion of Cooky Cat followers, you know that he is spot on, but not so much with the detailed in's and out's. This piece is about pickles and how to get into one yourself without too much muss or fuss. And, even trying to keep it to the bare basics, we wound up with a bit of verbiage. It's not tricky or complicated, just a few points to follow strictly.
Pickles and pickling is a broad subject. If you want the chapter and verse, we recommend The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. It just might be the bible of pickles, and all fermented things.
But, you got some Kirby pickles from the green grocer or farmers market and you want some dills. And, soon. So here it is.
Brine Cured Dill Pickles
Small fresh cucumbers (Quantity of your choosing, a dozen is a good start.)
Select smallish cucumbers. Kirby's (aka gherkins) are the gold standard. We've also had success with the Persian type and Cornichons. Freshness is key. Select plumpers with unblemished skins, nothing shriveled. On that let's not quibble.
Brine water (Ratio of 2.0 Tablespoons non-iodized salt to 1 quart water, non-chlorinated)
REPEAT: Non-Iodized salt (Kosher is good) and no chlorine in the water. That means no tap water. Or, if using tap water, it must be boiled first to remove the chlorine.
For the brine 2.0 T level salt per quart of water. We got the proportion from an interpretation of Mr. Arthur Scwartz's definitive recipe. Just to be sure it's non-iodized: Pickling salt or Kosher. Regular table salt won't work.
The water should be room temperature, pure, and un-chlorinated. Bottled spring water or tap water boiled (the boiling removes the chlorine from tap water).
You don't need to boil the spring water to dissolve the salt. Or, boil a little to dissolve the salt. Heat up the whole bunch and you end up waiting for it to get back down to room temperature. We're guessing the usual recipe instructions to boil the brine has more to do with being sure the Chlorine is dissipated when using tap water.
So, you ask, how much brine do I need? How should we know? You figure it out. OK, here's how. Load the cleaned cucumbers into your clean container. Fill with water. Then measure the liquid volume. That's that. Proceed to add the salt at the 1 quart water to 2.0 T salt ratio. Yes, you have to remove the fresh pickles from the container; but, it's a pretty slick trick don't you think?
Spices/flavorings (Recommended: Fresh dill [in flower is best, available mid/late summer if you can find it]. Yellow mustard seeds, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, whole allspice berries, bay leaf. Optionals: Garlic, whole cloves (just a few), hot pepper pods.)
We prefer to cure our pickles in one batch. For that a large 2.5 quart glass jar will hold about 18-24 very small pickles nicely. Divvy them among several jars if you want; but, big is better. Or, invest in a clay crock and get all Martha (Stewart) up in there. A crock is great especially if you are making mass quantities. And, if you are making pickles often. Otherwise, it's a dust catcher. Or, a crock, if you will.
We pack first some dill and the spices, then a layer of pickles standing on end, more dill, more pickles, then some more dill. It'll be dillicious.
You want the pickles to be completely submerged in the brine. We pack the brining jar tight so the pickles don't float. But a small something like a dish or a plastic bag with some brine water will make a decent weight to keep those critters in the brine.
Taking the Cure
Here's a key factor to keep in mind: "Time & Temperature." Fermentation takes place in time; how fast, however, depends on the temperature. If you go on to actually prepare your own brine fermented pickles, pay attention to the progress. Higher temperature, faster brining.
In the summer weather it seems to take only a 1 to 2 for our pickles to reach the "half sour" stage; kind of a 50/50 fresh/brined level. (Great with a pastrami or corned beef on rye and a cold Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Tonic*.)
You decide how sour you like your pickles. Probably no more than 3-5 days at room temperature should be more than enough. Then put them in the fridge. They will continue to sour in the cold, but more slowly.
Lately we are leaving the pickles only one day at room temperature. Then, into the refrigerator. They will continue to ferment, but slowly; keeping that half sour freshness.
We transfer the pickles as their numbers decrease into smaller and smaller jars. That saves refrigerator space and gets the big boy jar ready for next week's batch of pickles. This summer season we've been in the weekly pickle now for three months.
And, don't toss out the brine. Cube some cooked potatoes and add to a good chicken stock with minced onion/shallot sautéed in butter, shredded carrots and shredded dill pickles. Add 1 cup of brine to 4 cups of stock (more, to taste). Stir in lots of chopped fresh dill. Thicken with a slurry of flour and water. Season to taste; careful, the brine is salty. Polish Dill Pickle Soup. Really excellent. For sure. You likey.
When we serve pickles, we serve a bunch. "For the money" is a delicatessen term for a lot. Which, of course, you gotta pay for. Usually you will get a complementary single slice of a half sour or a full sour dill pickle with your Pastrami or Corned Beef on Rye sandwich.
"For the money" let's them know you want a boat load. And, like we said, you'll pay. The Cooky Cat recommended proper amount.