Lacto-fermented Pickles

Lacto-fermented Cucumber Pickles

I have to admit, I’m not a cucumber pickle person.  I’ve always disliked them, and I’ve avoided almost everything that has pickles in it.  I tried making them myself, canned ones from the Ball Blue Book, and they were better, but not something I’d really want to eat.  I prefer bread and butter pickles, and I do like them in a homemade tartar sauce, but I still don’t love them.  The best ones I’ve had were made with Boothby’s Blonde cucumbers.  Those were the favorites of my kids and Laura’s family as well.

A few years ago, Laura pulled out a one gallon plastic bucket from her basement full of pickles.  It was late February or early March, and she found a bucket of pickles in the back of the basement fridge.  They were crisp, sweet, and really quite good.  They weren’t canned, but were lacto-fermented with onions and garlic, and then finished in a raw cider vinegar and raw honey mixture.  These are incredibly good for you, full of wonderful digestive enzymes, and then finished with even more enzymes in the vinegar and honey.

The process is really quite simple.  You clean up the cucumbers and either cut them into spears or slices.  Cut up some onions and peel some garlic cloves.  I like the onions cut into about 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices.  Layer them in a glass jar, clean plastic bucket, or a stoneware crock.  If you are using a jar, I prefer a wide mouth quart or half gallon, mostly because they are easier to work with.

Next you cover them with brine.  The brine solution is 1 Tablespoon of salt dissolved in 1 cup of water.  Make sure the salt is not iodized.  Iodine messes up pickles.  I like to use Celtic Sea Salt, but any Canning salt or Kosher salt is fine.  Mix up enough brine to cover the pickles.  After you’ve covered the pickles, you need to weigh them down.  Find something to almost cover the pickles, but leaves a little space around the edge for air and bubbles to escape.  When I’m using a wide mouth canning jar, I take 3 narrow mouth lids, lay them on the surface of the pickles and spread them out so they are almost covering the surface.  Then I fill a bottle of some sort that fits inside the jar and can be used to weigh down the collection of lids and keep the pickles completely submerged.  I like to fill a jar with water and close it, making it a nice weight to keep things covered.  If I’m using a bucket or crock, I use an old plate that is just slightly smaller than the crock.  Depending on how much weight I need, I use a couple of quart jars or a half gallon filled with water to put on top of the plate.

Why is it important to cover the pickles like this?  First of all, you don’t want to tightly seal a jar with fermenting food in it.  The fermentation process creates carbon dioxide.  Tightly close a jar, and it will build up pressure, and might explode.  It probably won’t violently explode, but stuff will come out.  Imagine making fish sauce with fermenting fish and having that burst all over your kitchen.  My husband did that to me.  We learned to never tightly cover a fermenting food.  But you also want to prevent oxidation.  The best container is one that the carbon dioxide can escape from, but oxygen can’t get back in.  This is really important when you are making things like beer or wine, but not nearly as important in making sauerkraut or pickles.  I’ve made pickling jars with an airlock installed in the lid of a canning jar.  That works very well, but isn’t necessary.  The cheap and dirty method is to use something that almost covers the surface.

After you’ve covered the pickles with brine and weighed it down, it’s time to let it ferment.  Sliced pickles takes 2 days, and spears take 3.  Leave it out, undisturbed, in a room temperature location.  With lacto-fermented foods, if the fermenting process goes well, the food will smell good.  If something goes wrong, it will smell bad.  Throw it out if it smells bad.  If you were clean and didn’t bother them when they were fermenting, they should smell good and be good to eat.  At this point you can refrigerate them as is, or finish them with vinegar and honey.  I like to make a solution of half raw cider vinegar, half raw honey.  I replace half the brine with the vinegar and honey solution.  Then I refrigerate the pickles.  After a day or two, the pickles will be sweet, vinegary, and really delicious.

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