Make Pickles like a Jew

August 9, 2012

Am I the only one who asks for a pretty pickle crock and a pair of Christian Louboutin for her birthday?

Being of the persuasion myself, I think I’m allowed to use the J-word in a sentence without being weird, but NOW, for a limited time only, you too can be a Jew with this delicious recipe for pickles.

Non-Jew pickles are usually made with vinegar and sometimes (gasp!) sugar and (gasp again!) pickling spices. I sort of get pickles like that upon occasion (if I channel my inner shiksa), but nothing really matches that corned-beef-sandwich-at-Katz’s-Deli kind of feeling like a sour pickle.

Jewish pickles are fermented in brine, which is different than pickling per se, canning, or ‘putting up’. A fermented or “sour” pickle doesn’t get canned, instead it’s kept cool or cold once its finished, which removes my often irrational nervousness about Botchulism (Botulinum toxin is for wrinkles not pickles!).

Fermented foods are deliriously good for you (maybe not as good as the Louboutin, but…) – loaded with probiotics, vitamins and digestive enzymes. Most of the world eats fermented food as part of their daily intake; Americans are just culturally more freaked out about this stinky kind of stuff. We prefer our food prefabricated and free of all things, but I’ll save my ‘Americans don’t eat right’ cocktail party rant for another time.

Mold? Get over it!

My fermentation Guru is Sandor Katz. If you’re at all inclined to weird, olde time-y projects and deliciously foaming fermentation foodstuffs, you should check out his books or his Wild Fermentation website. His new book is the bible on fermentation, bar none. Pickle-making is one of the highlights of wild fermentation – a finger-lickin’ reward for your patience and a job well done.

Pickles can be a little trickier to make than sauerkraut, another fermented staple. Cucumbers (which…y’know, pickles are made from) can get soggy and they can develop a whole bunch of mold on the surface, so you need to prepare for those things.

Adding something with a lot of tannin to the batch will keep the cukes crunchy. My neighbor, Kelli, has grape vines, and grape leaves are great for this purpose. In a pinch, you can actually add a tea bag, or so says Sandor Katz, but if you can pilfer fresh grape leaves from Kelli (or your neighbor, maybe), it’s much more authentically pickle-y.

I pick my small to mid-size cucumbers for a few mornings until I have enough to make a decent batch all at once. If you get your pickles at the grocery store instead of my garden, make sure to choose small to mid-size pickling cucumbers. A relaxing bath of cold water for your cucumbers for an hour or so before you make them up increases your chances of perpetual crunch.

By late July, I love to tip-toe out to the garden each morning, peer through the leaves and see the new cuties my cucumber vines have yielded.

How much salt to use in your brine is another big question. I’ve often made a batch that seems too salty or not salty enough and have had to scramble to make some adjustments in situ. Brine strength is expressed as a percentage with a lower-percent salt (about 3%) and shorter ferment time pickle referred to in deli-speak as a ‘half-sour.’

This recipe is for a ‘full-sour’ – about 5%. In different batches I’ll experiment with how much or how little salt to try in my brine but “a general rule of thumb to consider”, Sandor Katz says, “in salting your ferments: more salt to slow microorganism action in summer heat; less salt in winter when microbial action slows.”

And as for the layer of mold on the top. Get over it!

Or more accurately, get under it!

Mold does not mean the pickles have gone bad. Instead the mold forms a kind of a ‘cap’ to your pickles and is a normal and necessary part of the process. Any part of a cucumber that sticks up above the mold line will be moldy and gross, but anything below it will be delicious. When you remove your pickles or taste them throughout the process, just rinse off the icky bits et voilà! Le Jew Pickle!

I grew “Diva” cucumbers and “Parisian Pickling” this year but my favorite pickling variety is “Adam Gherkin”.

LE JEW PICKLE

Timeframe: 1-4 weeks

Equipment:

  • An uberclean ceramic crock or (my choice) big Ball Jar*
  • Plate that fits inside the mouth of the crock (if you’re using one)
  • Kitchen towel to cover

*Note: you may need more than one.

Ingredients:

3 to 4 pounds small to medium size cucumbers
6 tbsp sea salt
3 to 4 heads fresh flowering dill, or, if you must, store-bought dill seed
1/2 gallon (2 liters) water
2 to 3 heads garlic scrubbed clean and sliced in half
1 handful fresh grape leaves (if available) or 1 teabag
10 black peppercorns

Yield: a buttload

  1. After the cucumbers spend a nice while (15 – 60 mins) in a cold water bath, gently scrub them. Make sure to remove the blossom end.
  2. Stir the sea salt into the water until the salt is thoroughly dissolved.
  3. Place the dill, garlic, grape leaves (or teabag), and the peppercorns into the crock or jar.

    Making pickles means uber-clean utensils. So wash those piggies.

  4. Place cucumbers in the crock adding them snugly but not forcibly. I like to use a Ball Jar because the cukes naturally fit under the lip of the jar and the brine covers them, no problem.
  5. Pour the brine into the crock or jar. The brine should cover the other junk. If you use a crock, you’ll need to put something over the cucumbers, like a small plate, to weight them down below the surface of the brine.
  6. Cover the crock or jar with a kitchen towel. I used to put my crock in a cool, dark place to wait out the process but I’ve recently read that a bit of sunlight can help make Le Jew Pickles perfect, so my sunlit jars are currently on my windowsill (behind the artisan bread!)
  7. Check the pickle jar every day. You can skim the mold or forget about it.
  8. Taste the pickles after a few days. They may initially taste too salty but as they ferment the flavor will mellow out.
  9. In one to four weeks your pickles will taste done. If would describe ‘done’ as tasting sour and not exceedingly salty. It’s better to catch them a little too early than too late. They will continue to ferment a bit in the fridge.
  10. Move them into the fridge (I will sometimes put into smaller, easier to manage jars) to slow down the fermentation to a near-halt. These will stay delicious like this for 6 months.

    Pickles can’t help but be happy!

    Take off those boots before you come in here!

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

putneyfarm

Great post…we love making pickles…

Reply

Jennifer Solow

Thanks for stopping by, Putneyfarmers! Seems like we got a lot in common. 🙂

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putneyfarm

Thanks- we look forward to following your blog!

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Linda

I will have to give these a try sometime! I love experimenting with different ways to do things…thanks for sharing! They look delicious!

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Jennifer Solow

Thanks stopping by, Linda! Send me some pics of your pickles when you try them!

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sohony

yum.

now you’re tawkin.

excellent shout out for legendary “fermentation revivalist” sandor katz who also leads pickling workshops & a “fermented new york” class at the tenement museum (orchard st on the LES).

Reply

Jennifer Solow

Thanks Sohony! Glad the pickles spoke to you. Sandor’s new book “The Art of Fermentation” is great. Reads like a lovely novel. It was my summer beach read (I couldn’t manage my way through ’50 Shades of Grey’ for the life of me!). xx

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Terry

My folks would always make pickles like this. They used leaves from a horseradish instead of the grape leaves (now would be hard to find). They are the best !. I now have their crock but haven’t made any yet. Do you know if they can be transfered to jars after fermented & then placed in a waterbath to preserve ? I geuss I have not seen that done before. They always just refrigerated them after they were half or whole fermented. I wouldn’t want to waste them, so would not try that without advice from someone that has tried it.

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moikes

LOVE the title~! Another source of tannins is practically everywhere: Oak leaves.

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Dan Wagner

I’ve got two old crock pots full of these pickles fermenting. (not with heat, of course!) They’ve been in for a week. As expected, there is mold on top. Now I’m getting nervous. I want to taste the pickles, but I have to take off the plates holding them under, then they’ll float up and get the gross mold on them before I have a chance to skim the mold off. I just know I’ll be afraid to eat them if they mix with the mold. Any hints?

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Jennifer Solow

Dan – a layer of mold can be expected at the top of your pickles. Skim it off (or wipe off the pickle) and what’s underneath is perfect. While pressure canning can be a bit of a nervous business, fermenting vegetables is really nothing to worry about. The worst case scenario is that they’re soggy or overly salty or just taste weird. Mine get a layer of “bloom” every time. It’s not much different from making cheese. They’re probably delicious!

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Herb Nicholas

I like your jewish pickle recipe. Unfortunately with “print page” picking the pages with the recipe doesn’t work. You only get your opening page and some of the comments.

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Jennifer Solow

Oh, gosh – sorry, Herb. Just seeing your comment now. Hopefully you’re trying another batch. Do what I do…bring the laptop into the kitchen, open it, get it greasy and grimy, and just follow along with the screen.

Reply

Toni

When you say “head” of garlic, do you mean a clove or a complete cluster of cloves? Also, is a head of dill one flower? Thanks.

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Jennifer Solow

HEAD of garlic. Complete cluster. If you hate garlic, use less. If you love it, use as much as you want. 8 heads? Fine.

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Joe Doran

I noticed a red pepper in the picture with no mention in the instructions. Optional ???

Reply

Jennifer Solow

Optional. Brine (salt) is all you need. Red pepper is optional. Sometimes I add it — if I have a spicy crew coming over soon.

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Ilene Harris

No vinegar at all? What is in the brine besides water?

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Jennifer Solow

Just brine. That’s what makes the pickles. Optional: spices like peppercorns, bay leaves, juniper. But if you are going to try it, simply do the brine. The flavor comes from the fermenting itself.

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janie

once fermented to my liking, can I hot water bath them to shelve them>

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Jackie Oliver

You make pickling look so easy! I’ve always wanted to tried it, and I think that this would be fun to eat my own homemade pickles. It’s really cool how you add peppercorns, spices, and grape leaves in with the cucumbers. I bet they have so much flavor in them.

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Deb Brownstein

Great post. Great writing and informative. I’m making Jew pickles to offset the sweetness of the JNY!!!
I’ll get back to you with results-
Deb

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