Sunday, December 1, 2013
I can't believe that today is the first of December. But perhaps it is appropriate to finish the farming season with a pickling post. This post has been marinating since the few last warm days in October, when we went to Alstede Farms here in Chester, New Jersey, with no purpose whatsoever other than pick a few of our own vegetables and see and pet the farm animals (my husband an I are both about five years old when it comes to such things).
At the farm, past the animals, past the pumpkins, past the corn, all of which attracted most of the visitors, we stumbled upon a cucumber patch devoid of anyone entirely.
I was delighted because I've loved these tiny, prickly, crunchy crescent knobs of goodness ever since I actually was five at my grandmother's dacha in the summer where she had a vegetable garden. We used to pick fresh, small cucumbers from her garden as soon as we would arrive there for the summer. I would eat a few right away, fresh, split in half sprinkled with salt (my favorite snack, still). But there were too many to eat fresh, and I watched my grandmother and my mom use the rest to make new pickles, ready in just a few days.
At the farm, the first time around, my husband and I picked just a few, enough for one or two jars, for an experiment. The next time we came back, we filled our box with cucumbers, with some corn and string beans thrown on top for decency.
With this recipe I attempted to recreate the taste of a freshly pickled cucumber, taken from a just opened jar of my grandmother's pickles. I've combined what I learned from a few cookbooks I've inherited from her, published sometime in the 70's in Russian, with my mom's own remembered recipe.
The pickles taste just like I remember them.
Nothing can ever beat freshly picked vegetables. Kirby cucumbers should be small, freshly picked. The best kind is to pick your own if you can, and pickle them the same or next day. The next best thing is a farmer's market, but likely there won't be cucumbers small enough, unless you make a request in advance. Avoid store-bought because they've been sitting there a while, and often they're covered with stuff which can react with and possibly spoil your brine.
These pickles are ready in just a few days. We managed to wait about three. I'd say these were just about perfect by day four. These should be consumed within a few weeks of pickling. Since the brine is salt-based and the pickles are not fermented, the recipe is not meant for long-term pickling.
Makes 6 one-quart jars
You will need:
Large pot for the brine
Six one-quart jars, with lids and bands
Tongs or jar grabber
Brine (4% - 4.5% salt):
240 - 270 grams (8.5 to 9.5 oz by weight) kosher salt*
6 liters (6.3 quarts) water
Spices for each jar:
2 garlic cloves
1/4 tsp whole coriander seeds
1/4 tsp whole mustard seeds
1/4 tsp pepper corns
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp dill seeds
2 whole cloves
8 sprigs of fresh dill
1-2 dried hot chili peppers (optional)
7-9 lbs small kirby cucumbers (about 2-2.5 inches long)
1. Wash the cucumbers, remove the flowers, then place in a large pot and cover with water. Let soak for about one hour.
2. Sterilize jars and lids. Bring a canner (giant pot) filled with water to a simmer. Ladle some of the water carefully into each jar (to prevent the glass from cracking). Then, submerge the jars, a few at a time, together with the lids, and boil for about 10 minutes. Remove from the canner and let the jars cool slightly. Discard the water.
3. For the brine, bring the 6 liters of water to a boil, stir in the salt, until it is completely dissolved. Avoid using an aluminum pot, as the metal will react with the salt; teflon-lined or stainless steel is best. Turn the heat down to a simmer.
4. Pack each sterilized jar with overlapping layers of spices and cucumbers. Cucumbers should be very tightly packed, leaving about half an inch for the brine at the top. Depending on the size of the cucumbers, you should be able to pack about 1 1/2 lb cucumbers per jar. Pour in the hot brine; the brine should cover the contents of each jar; seal the jars. Overturn the jars once to get rid of any air bubbles. Cool completely. Store in the fridge. Pickles will be ready after 3-4 days. Consume within 1 month. Keep refrigerated at all times.
* use salt that has NO ADDITIVES, including no iodine; it should not be sea salt. Ingredients should read salt, nothing else. Anything else will cloud or spoil your brine. Also be careful to WEIGH your salt, and do NOT use volumetric measurements. This is especially important if you use granulated salt as opposed to flaky salt, the former of which is much denser. The percentage of salt in your brine will vary greatly if you only rely on volumetric measurements.