So, wanna learn how to pickle cucumbers? I never thought I did, but now I know and it wasn’t half as hard as I expected.
Pickling was one thing I never thought I’d do. I mean, who pickles anything these days? Alright, let me rephrase that: who under the age of 50 pickles anything these days? Had this been a round of Jeopardy, the answer to the question would’ve been “Who is *this* guy?” And it’s not like I really wanted to, it was sort of forced upon me..
Homemade Kosher Pickles: The Family Recipe
It all began one day at lunchtime: my secretary brought in a batch of homemade pickled cucumbers that she bragged was made using her grandmothers recipe. Now being the kinda guy that I am, the kinda guy that gets excited by homemade things and turn of the century grandma recipes, I of course asked if I could have the recipe for experiments of my own. Surely, she said, and returned the next day carrying not only a photo copy of the original hand-written turn of the century recipe, but also some handpicked dill which the recipe called for, oh and a bunch of chilies that nearly killed me, but that’s a future post.
The hand-written turn of the (last) century pickling recipe. that started it all.
The recipe in itself was a thing of beauty, calling for among other things “proper vinegar” and “a few great handfuls of the good Danish salt” and instructing that “the pickle be left long enough for the dill to flower at which point the dill should be added and the pot left to stand till done.” You just gotta love how they did thing in the old days. Finding the whole thing more curious than anything else, I left it at that and went on to tell friends, jokingly more or less, that I was considering going into pickling.
What I didn’t actually count on was for my friends to call me out on the subject! A few days later, I received a text message from my friend Malene which read “Seeing as you’re getting into pickling, my uncle has some left-over pickling cucumbers, want in?” – “Sure,” I replied, not really certain what I’d gotten myself into – until Malene showed up a few days later with a cute little smile.. and a twenty pound sack of cucumbers and gherkins! “Well, the standard pickling recipe for cucumbers is 8 pounds,” she offered, “and my family all thought you’d need a little something to practice on.. Also, they said that gherkins is the easiest thing in the world to turn into pickles, so you needed those, too! Also, you’re considered part of the family, so half price for you my friend!”
Well, fuck it, with 20 pounds of cucumbers on my hands, I guess I really was going into pickling! Not that it was too far fetched of an idea. I have a way of getting myself into weird and exceedingly complicated food-related projects, so maybe it was just a matter of time.
Not that pickling is complicated, really. It’s just exceedingly time-consuming!
The pickling process
Having never pickled anything in my life before (that I remember anyway) I pretty much had to learn the process as I went along. Except for the parts that I had to make up. The funny thing about pickling is that most resources on the matter seem written by people who’ve been doing this stuff for decades, so many online recipes from the 21st century look surprisingly like the 100 year old recipe above. So eventually what I ended up doing was going partially by the recipe I had in had, partially by what I could find online and partially what I thought made sense at the time.
No matter, though. On I went, starting with the small pickling cucumbers. The general consensus seemed to be that step one was to thoroughly clean the cucumbers, then stab all of them them repeatedly with a fork or other such tool. I’m happy to report that for ten pounds of cucumbers, this takes a while!
Rinse, lather, stab, repeat.. Cleaning and poking roughly ten pounds of cucumbers is as bitch!
Step the second was to generously cover the cucumbers with salt and then add water to cover before leaving to stand for 24 hours. This, incidentally, was the part of the process I was most comfortable with.
Step three, according to most recipes was to drain the water from the cucumbers, rinse them, then take enough vinegar to cover, bring it to a boil and then pour over the cucumbers before leaving to stand for another 24 hours. Allow me to add a little pro tip here: If you’re gonna bring enough vinegar to cover ten pounds of cucumbers to a boil, you’ll wanna make sure that the fan is going and that your windows are open.
Step four seemingly sent me into hiccup mode as it instructed to drain and reserve the vinegar, bring it to a boil once more, then pour it back over the cucumbers and let it stand for, you guessed it, another 24 hours (or 12 at least, if you’re in a hurry!)
The fifth, and final, step involved draining and discarding the vinegar, then grabbing another portion of vinegar large enough to cover (at this point I was getting some pretty weird looks from the people at the corner store as I kept dragging home gallon jugs of vinegar), bringing that to a boil with some pepper corns, mustard seeds, dill flowers and about half a kilo of sugar per liter of vinegar, then adding to the cucumbers before leaving to stand for a small eternity.
After many a soaking in both salt and vinegar, the pickles are in their jar and ready for their final soak..
While the pickling brine came to a boil (by the way, I want a gas mask for christmas!), I got out some large glass jars with tight-fitting lids, scolded them with boiling water, washed them with disinfectant and added the cucumbers. I also added finely sliced shallots, a few crushed cloves of garlic per jar along with a single home-grown Jalapeño. I hear horseradish is traditional, but I think I’ll like my version better. I then poured over the boiling pickling brine and closed up the jars immediately and securely.
Home-made kosher dill pickles? Done! Well, sorta..
The waiting game
The thing about pickling is, it takes time! And if done properly lots of time! My efforts landed me with three 1.5 liter jars full of pretty, little cucumbers and if my calculations are correct, and by my calculations I mean those of the internet community, they should be done in about a month!
The finished product.. Now, we wait!
Which leaves me a lot of time to sit around and reflect.. I’ve stuck my pickles in a dark, cool spot under the stairs where I intend to leave them until they’re done. Which I don’t really know when is.. And as to whether they’re good, I won’t know for another month or so. I am curious, though, and I will let you know. All I know is I’ve got the pickles excitement going, as do my friends who’ve been involved in all of this by proxy.. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some twenty pounds of gherkins to consider.
Oh, and if you’re an American reading this, I never told you to put cucumbers in a jar and leave them under the stairs for a month. I told you to add the hot brine, cool them down, stack them in the fridge and consume within a month! And if you get sick, I didn’t tell you anything at all, ok? We’re from the old world, we do things a little differently over here.