Wednesday, July 21, 2010

It is Cucumber Pickle Time!

By Nicole Sugerman

The cucumbers have been producing at full capacity for about a week, and they show no signs of slowing down. We farmers have been harvesting those cucumbers every single day; we have bins and bins of cucumbers in the cooler. That means that you all need to use up a lot of cucumbers! I have included a number of cucumber recipes in this share letter, but one of the most tried, true, and delicious ways to use a lot of cucumbers all at once is to make a batch of pickles.

Pickling means different things to different people. I used to be a pickle purist; when I said or made ‘pickles’, I meant the lacto-fermented kind, soured in a salt brine on my kitchen counter over the span of a week or two. I am still partial to this kind of pickle, partly for the politics of it, partly for the health benefits, and partly for the taste. But I have come around to the fact that the ‘other’ kind of pickle, the one you put in vinegar and stick right in your refrigerator, tastes pretty good itself.

A word on the politics of the pickle to which I refer: Fermented pickles came first. Most, if not all, traditional cuisines of the world have fermented foods as integral parts of their food cultures. Fermenting food not only preserves it for later use, but makes it more nutritious, using wild microbacteria to pre-digest the food and make the nutrients more available to our bodies, as well as adding nutrients not originally available in the food. The ‘problem’ with fermented foods, in a modern context, is that, because they make use of the wild bacteria present in any particular micro-region, a fermented food will always taste different depending on when and where it is made. This was not conducive to industrialized food production and distribution, which wanted a standardized product for widespread shipping, long term storage, and brand development.

Fermented foods are made in the home and stored in a cool place, like a root cellar; they have no longevity on a supermarket shelf and no potential for homogenization of taste and culture.

Enter the vinegar pickle. Vinegar can be mass-produced and, poured on the cucumber, will preserve it in such a way that the taste will be the same each time the pickle is made. Vinegar is a preservation agent, and, when canned, the pasteurization process can preserve it for indefinite storage. Still, vinegar pickles are easy to make and can be stored in your refrigerator like fermented pickles. Make a batch of both!

For these recipes, I recommend that you use pickling cucumbers. Pickling cucumbers are bred to grow slightly smaller and with a thicker skin than slicing cucumbers, keeping them crispy in pickling recipes. You can, however, also eat pickling cucumbers raw. For making pickles, try to select pickling cucumbers that are roughly the same size.

Lacto-fermented Cucumber Pickles
Timeframe: 1-4 weeks

Special Equipment:
• Ceramic crock or food-grade plastic bucket
• Plate that fits inside crock or bucket
• 1-gallon/4-liter jug filled with water, or other weight
• Cloth cover

Ingredients (for 1 gallon/4 liters):
• 3 to 4 pounds/1.5 to 2 kilograms unwaxed
• cucumbers (small to medium size)
• 3⁄8 cup (6 tablespoons)/90 milliliters sea salt
• 3 to 4 heads fresh flowering dill, or 3 to 4
• tablespoons/45 to 60 milliliters of any form of dill (fresh or dried leaf or seeds)• 2 to 3 heads garlic, peeled
• 1 handful fresh grape, cherry, oak, and/or
• horseradish leaves (if available)
• 1 pinch black peppercorns

1. Rinse cucumbers, taking care to not bruise them, and making sure their blossoms are removed. Scrape off any remains at the blossom end. If you’re using cucumbers that aren’t fresh off the vine that day, soak them for a couple of hours in very cold water to freshen them.
2. Dissolve sea salt in ½gallon (2 liters) of water to create brine solution. Stir until salt is thoroughly dissolved.
3. 3. Clean the crock, then place at the bottom of it dill, garlic, fresh grape leaves, and a pinch of black peppercorns.
4. Place cucumbers in the crock.
5. Pour brine over the cucumbers, place the (clean) plate over them, then weigh it down with a jug filled with water or a boiled rock. If the brine doesn’t cover the weighed-down plate, add more brine mixed at the same ratio of just under 1 tablespoon of salt to each cup of water.
6. Cover the crock with a cloth to keep out dust and flies and store it in a cool place.
7. Check the crock every day. Skim any mold from the surface, but don’t worry if you can’t get it all. If there’s mold, be sure to rinse the plate and weight. Taste the pickles after a few days.
8. Enjoy the pickles as they continue to ferment. Continue to check the crock every day.
9. Eventually, after one to four weeks (depending on the temperature), the pickles will be fully sour. Continue to enjoy them, moving them to the fridge to slow down fermentation.

From: resources.php?page=pickles

Refrigerator Pickles

• 1 cup distilled white vinegar
• 1 tablespoon salt
• 2 cups white sugar
• 6 cups sliced cucumbers
• 1 cup sliced onions or scallions

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring vinegar, salt and sugar to a boil. Boil until the sugar has dissolved, about 10 minutes.
Place the cucumbers and onions in a large bowl. Pour the vinegar mixture over the vegetables. Transfer to sterile containers and store in the refrigerator.

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